Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Edmonton Oilers were on the road against a divisional opponent. They played a terrible first period and fell behind, but started to come back a bit in the second, only to be done in by a defensive blunder from an over-matched blueline. The chances were against them, the ice was tilted, they were out of sync and they would skate to another loss.
Except they didn't. The Oilers managed to overcome their defensive deficiencies and force Vancouver into a shootout, and stole a point on the road. It's just one game, but it was the type of game the Oilers haven't won in a very long time. In fact, it was the type of game that would typically turn into a 4-0 or 5-1 rout in recent years. But, as Oilleak said "This team is going live through the forwards and die by the defense." They died early, but the forwards resurrected their chances late.
It started in the faceoff circle - the Oilers' centres were 33-27 on the night, and the worst of them (Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) were 50%. Yeah, the Canucks are missing Ryan Kesler, but the Oilers haven't owned the faceoff circle as a team against anyone since Michael Peca was in Alberta.
The defensive depth is non-existent, but Jeff Petry picked up where he left off at the end of last season. He was fantastic throughout. He led the Oilers in icetime, played in all situations and all zones, was more physical than we've seen him at any point thus far in his young career, all while handling over 80% of the zone exits. Ladislav Smid is a solid, stay-at-home guy, but it's Petry that makes the top pairing go and Petry that makes the Oilers go. He had a marvelous game - one of his best.
When he's fully healthy, there few wingers in the league capable of doing what Ales Hemsky can do. He's a tough-minutes killer, nearly a point-per-game scorer, he wants the puck on his stick at all times, he back checks like a mad man and tonight he was asked to carry a rookie left wing making his debut. Hemsky's line was exciting in the first and controlled the play, and moved the puck the right way from their first shift. As the game crescendoed, it was Hemsky's line that was turning the puck around and pushing the Canucks back and in the end, it was Hemsky's marvelous power play foray from the right wing that tied the game. If he avoids injury and Gagner stays healthy, Nail Yakupov is going to have a great start to his career.
It may be bias on my part, but I don't remember Devan Dubnyk being nearly as active in previous years on the penalty kill. He was much more mobile, up and down, moving to his posts quickly and it looked like he was directing traffic like a veteran goalie. In previous years, he was much more passive - much deeper and more willing to get into the butterfly even just to take a look around. The new penalty-killing Dubnyk was very nice to watch.
There isn't enough depth on this team, or even in the entire organization, for the Oilers to take stupid penalties. They have just four forwards to kill penalties and just three defensemen. Stupid penalties, like Taylor Hall's Karate Kid-like leg sweep, will kill this team. The coaching staff is going to have to stress hard, but smart and clean hockey, because the manpower isn't there to backup multiple HUA's per game.
Teemu Hartikainen started the game on the Shawn Horcoff line, but ended with just over 6 minutes of icetime. He disappeared for the entire second period. I didn't notice if he did something wrong to deserve a benching, or if the PK shifts were throwing off his regular shifts. If Hartikainen is only going to play 6 minutes, it's time to get Paajarvi out of the press box and see what he can do, assuming Krueger believes he must have one of Eager or Hordichuk in the lineup every night.
Speaking of which, Ralph Krueger made some curious decisions tonight, including two fourth line shifts against the Sedins. He didn't have final change, but putting the fourth line out when the Sedins are rested is asking for a GA. Getting Eager on the ice after the goal was a bad idea as well. The top three lines were pushing so hard and the Canucks were sucking wind - there's no need to try to beat they up when you can ask the guys to keep skating around them. He also had the immobile Ryan Whitney leading the defense in icetime until the middle of the second period, a strategy that isn't going to work for the rest of the season.
This may or may not sound familiar to you, but Ryan Whitney can't move. After the sports writers in Edmonton allowed him to write a narrative about health and a new 100%, he played this game like he was physically disabled. His lateral movement is completely gone and he can't push off to move in any direction quickly. He shouldn't be out there and I'm still not quite sure how he passed the physical. It's a shame the Oilers don't have a second defenseman in the press box to draw in because...
...Marc Fistric has to draw in for Potter, Corey. Potter's struggles continued tonight - he still doesn't know how to defend while skating backwards and he gets lost, then trapped in his own zone. He had a hot streak of 25 games where he was on the ice while the power play went gonzo and the Oilers gave him a two-year deal. But in reality, he's an AHL guy. But the Oilers have to play either him or Ryan Whitney and the two of them were directly responsible for both Canucks goals tonight. Damned if you do.
Speaking of drawing in, it's all but a sure bet that Darcy Hordichuk will be in the lineup against the San Jose Sharks. After Ales Hemsky scored the game-tying goal, Ben Eager decided it was in his best interest to pick a fight with Zack Kassian. Not only is this terribly stupid because the Canucks were starting to tire and were really chasing the puck, but it was terribly stupid because Eager never had a chance against Kassian. Kassian landed a number of lefts to Eager's face, breaking him open quickly, then lost his balance and Eager held on before going to the locker room for sutures. The Oilers will want to demonstrate toughness, so Hordichuk will be on the ice, even though he won't play and he'll keep Magnus Paajarvi or Teemu Hartikainen in the press box.
Finally, a special raspberry for Terry Jones, Jim Matheson and Dave Staples. The three of them immediately took to Twitter to blame Yakupov for his terrible play on the second Canucks goal when in fact, Yakupov was not at fault at all. Replays showed that the goal was the fault of Potter, Corey and Ryan Whitney and Yakupov made the same play that every other forward in his shoes would have made. Why the local sports writers are so quick to throw contempt at Yakupov when they did nothing but write adoringly about Eberle, Hall and Hopkins over the last few years is a mystery to me. But you don't need to be a detective to note that the three of them have an axe to grind.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Jordan Eberle
★★ - Ales Hemsky
★ - Jeff Petry